Nicolas Winding Refn

It’s difficult to walk away from Drive and not feel affected – whether by the performances, the style, the music or the overall feel of the film. Simply put: it leaves an impression. After watching Drive the first time (and the second), I could not get the distinct music and sound of the film out of my head. And I did not want to. From the moment the neon pink, italicized credits begin and the music kicks in, you know you are about to be taken on a ride. The catchy 1980s synth-pop is interwoven with an almost mellow, but never quite calming, score that works to highlight the quieter moments while keeping the tension in the darker ones. I got the chance to chat with Drive’s composer, Cliff Martinez, about the process of putting together his hypnotic score, working with director Nicolas Winding Refn, and some of his more surprising influences.

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Culture Warrior

Masculinity has always been the major topic of concern in the work of Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. Just look at the series he made his name with, the Pusher trilogy, which in three installments provide three very different but equally compelling stories of occasionally brazen, often buffoonish masculinity within various facets of the Copenhagen illegal drug trade. So it is no surprise that the directors latest work (his ‘breakthrough’ years, if you will) are continuously concerned with the turbulent lives of men, culminating this weekend with his most ‘mainstream’ entry, Drive (in purely box-office terms, as Drive in its opening weekend made more than 84x what his previous two films made together, yet the film is still ripe with Refn’s eccentric signature). Refn’s thematic and narrative preoccupation with masculinity has produced three fascinating portraits in as many years. The temporal and social contexts of Bronson, Valhalla Rising, and Drive couldn’t be more disparate, but between them he’s produced an unofficial trilogy of sorts connected not only through his deliberate pacing and striking, almost invasive visual style, but more importantly through their shared concerns as portrayals of three aggressive men who wander their respective environments in solitude.

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr feels the weight of the fall movie season. It’s September, and while the kids are heading back to school, he’s playing hooky with Sarah Jessica Parker chick flicks and yet another not-quite-70s-video-nasty remake. Kevin is consoled by the release of Drive, however, because Albert Brooks as a crime boss makes him chuckle. And his love for 3D and Disney meet head-on in a collision of awesomeness.

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A getaway driver (Ryan Gosling) waits as his temporary partners in crime pile in with their unspecified haul, and as the police close in behind them the driver does what he does best. Straight-faced, calm, and in control, he eludes capture through precision and restraint, and when the job’s over he walks away. But what happens when walking away is no longer an option? Driver (as he’s listed in the credits) meets, befriends, and falls for a young woman (Carey Mulligan) and her son who may just be the only real innocents left in Los Angeles. When her husband is released from jail and forcibly tasked to commit one last robbery to pay off a debt, Driver steps in to assist and spare mother and son any further anguish. Things do not go as planned. If the bare mechanics of Drive‘s plot seem overly familiar it’s because they are. The character of Driver could easily be imagined in any number of westerns, samurai epics, or Clint Eastwood films as the nameless stranger who appears to skirt both sides of the law but who shows his true colors when it comes to protecting or avenging the innocent. His past is unclear but we know those gaps are most likely filled with violence, loss and more violence. And the idea of “one last job that goes wrong” has become so ubiquitous that it’s a wonder Friedberg & Seltzer haven’t spoofed it by now (in a film destined to be creatively titled One […]

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This week, on a very special episode of Reject Radio, we talk with Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure director Matthew Bate, discuss the love letter Drive with director Nicolas Winding Refn, and talk intentionally bad filmmaking with The Worst Movie Ever! director Glenn Berggoetz. That’s two movies with exclamation marks in the title. Can you get more excited than that? Download This Episode

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Director Nicolas Winding Refn‘s first Hollywood outing, Drive, is a successful and propulsive dive into the world of commercialism. Instead of tackling a work-for-hire type of gig, the semi-auteur has stuck to his unrelenting, darkly comedic, and playful style. The director took a simple premise and storyline, and made an 80s-inspired, pop music-fueled western about a lone samurai. Does that sound like the atypical Hollywood picture? It delivers the unexpected, similar to how Refn does in person. This is the second time I’ve interviewed the on-the-rise filmmaker, and he’s the type of interviewee that keeps you on your feet. Most of the time his responses are brief, to the point, and often odd. Sometimes that’s for the better, especially since the Danish filmmaker is never at a loss for something interesting to say. Here’s what the self-described fetish filmmaker had to say about Pretty Woman, treating actors as human beings, embracing his feminine side, and the ending of Drive:

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The evolution of Walter White is, without a doubt, one of the most engaging character arcs ever to grace the small screen. Once the unassuming school teacher turned meth dealer, very few characters transform that heavily. Per usual on Breaking Bad, that transformation has been done with patience and care. Walter White is a character that has garnered many fans over the years, and star Bryan Cranston is on that fan list as well. The Emmy-winning actor was kind enough to make time for a phone interview, and early on in our chat, Cranston’s passion and love for the character was clear. And for good reason. Walter White travels to new and interesting places that most actors never get the chance to explore. Thankfully, we’ll be going along with Cranston on White’s journey for another 16 episodes. Cranston and I started off discussing the collaborative process on the well-deserved critical darling, Drive, then soon moved on to discussing how Walter has changed over the course of the show, and if there’s any chance of hope for our favorite meth maker.

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Tonight during a hilarious Q & A with Nicolas Winding Refn‘s for his near-perfect film Drive — yes, it’s about as a perfect as a movie can get — the rising auteur dropped two interesting stories. For one, apparently Ryan Gosling will soon be working with Terrence Malick. Refn briefly mentioned that Gosling may do the project after he’s done with Only God Forgives, and before Logan’s Run. Obviously, this news means we’ll be getting the remake a little later than expected. Fortunately enough, Refn has another project to keep himself busy during that time.

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Director Nicolas Winding Refn is making quite a name for himself in the film lover community by making stylish, testosterone-filled films for guys. He blew everybody away by casting Tom Hardy in a movie about an alpha male criminal named Bronson that was so mannishly awesome my meathead, physical trainer cousin watched it three times a week for a year. And recently he started taking his newest effort Drive around to festivals. It’s about cars, robberies, stunt driving, and violence, and everyone who sees it completely gushes about how much it rules. Refn has done other things too, like Valhalla Rising and the Pusher trilogy, that all explore manly themes of violence and grimacing. He’s a man’s man of a filmmaker. It’s a little strange then, that Refn keeps saying his dream job is to make a movie about the girliest of all superheroes, Wonder Woman. Or maybe not so much, if you really look at it. Wonder Woman is a warrior born, an overpowering presence that inspires everyone around her, and she was raised in a culture of violence. Despite getting her face plastered all over little girl’s underwear for the last fifty years, she’s actually kind of a badass, much in the same vein as Bronson. And whenever Refn randomly brings the movie up, he always manages to throw in the notion that he thinks Drive actress Christina Hendricks would be his dream choice to play the character. What could be more appealing to male sensibilities than putting […]

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There are a number of elements to Nicolas Winding Refn‘s upcoming release, Drive, that are surprising. But beyond the shocking violence (if you’ve got a weak tummy, consider investing in a blindfold, or at least polish up your eye-covering reflexes before hitting the theater) and the nifty double-crossings and Ryan Gosling being a mind-blowing badass, there is nothing more surprising than the film’s soundtrack. Upon first listen, it’s incongruous. In fact, the soundtrack may make you feel as if you’ve finally lost total touch with reality and regressed all the way back to the eighties. Don’t worry about it, you’re not having an acid flashback or a stroke, the soundtrack really is that unexpected. The soundtrack will also make you want to become a tough as nails hitman and drive like you’re being chased by a pack of pissed off mobsters. It’s probably best to listen to it far, far away from the wheel of a car. Who am I kidding? Get this soundtrack, then get in your Pinto or Fiesta or whatever, and drive like hell. If you haven’t gone through puberty yet (and, if so, why are you driving?), this soundtrack paired with American muscle will change that faster than you can put pedal to metal and break whatever flimsy speed limit is posted nearby. I’m not telling you to break the law. This soundtrack is telling you to break the law. Check it out after the break:

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Word went around over the weekend that Fox is moving forward with Die Hard 5. The proposed project would be about Bruce Willis’s iconic character John McClane and his now adult son getting into some terrorist related hijinx over in Russia, and reportedly Max Payne director John Moore had an offer to direct on the table if he wanted it. Well, it turns out that’s half true. According to Deadline Vershina the movie is definitely going forward, it will most assuredly be set in Russia, but Moore is far from a lock to direct. As a matter of fact, they say he’s one name on a short list that contains far more interesting choices. Joining Moore on Deadline’s short list is Attack the Block director Joe Cornish, Bronson director Nicolas Winding Refn, and Fast Five director Justin Lin. Despite the fact that I didn’t seem to be as taken with Lin’s revival of the Fast and the Furious franchise as everyone else, I would have to say that every one of these names is more interesting to me than John Moore. Refn showed that he can handle darker, action oriented material with Bronson, and he’s riding a lot of momentum right now due to positive buzz on this year’s Drive, but he might already have too much on his plate to step into the Die Hard franchise. He already has two more films planned in Only God Forgives and a possible remake of Logan’s Run, both set to star Ryan […]

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If you’re like me, then you probably don’t pay much attention to what goes on in towns outside your own. As far as I knew, the only thing Toronto had going on was gripes about Maple Leaf hockey and reminiscing about when The Kids in the Hall used to play that tiny theater down the street. But what do I know? I haven’t been there since The Ultimate Warrior pinned Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 6. Turns out they have a really awesome film festival every year. This year the events go down between September eighth and the eighteenth, and the first fifty or so films announced for the lineup have me wanting to take a trip. There are too many to discuss, but just to give you an idea of what we’re working with, let’s look at a few.

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Driving is boring. It’s so damn boring. Watching characters drive is often one of the most boring and cinematically flat things in movies. It’s rarely exciting. Directors constantly complain about the difficulty of finding energy or something of interest when characters stare off onto a road. Who could actually make such a dull-seeming activity cool, cinematic, and energetic? Nicolas Winding Refn, that’s who. Refn’s a director with a voice of his own, something that’s a bit of rarity nowadays. He’s got a specific personality that’s reflected perfectly on-screen. With Valhalla Rising, Bronson, and the Pusher trilogy, the guy has shown a great love for his violent characters. The auteur revels in exploring men of violence, what makes them tick, and their relationship with their surroundings. The lead in Drive, suitably credited only as Driver, is a lot like Bronson and One-Eye. He’s a man with his own presence, most of his intentions and thought processes are expressed internally, and he isn’t afraid to kick some ass if push comes to shove. Unlike Bronson, though, Driver doesn’t at all represent some form of madness. In this story that’s filled mostly with bastards, Driver is the most moralistic man among them.

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Director Nicolas Winding Refn has little interest in repeating himself on the big screen. He first made a splash with his gritty and violent Pusher trilogy before surprising audiences and critics alike with the creative and charismatic Bronson. His last film, Valhalla Rising, saw him move into a more contemplative and zen-like mood focused on visuals and atmosphere instead of plot. Which brings us to his latest film… which also appears to be his most accessible. Drive is about a movie stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a getaway driver whenever the mood strikes him, but when he gets involved with a woman (Carrie Mulligan) and her son his precise and controlled life takes a deadly turn. He’s forced outside of his comfort zone and has to put his skills to the test to save not only himself but the hottie and the kid as well. The film also boasts a pretty stellar supporting cast list including Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, and Christina Hendricks. Check out the fantastically thrilling and beautifully scored trailer courtesy of IGN below.

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Culture Warrior

Last week, as I watched Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber, I noticed that the trailers on the rental Blu-Ray were all of titles sharing space at the top of my queue: titles like Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins, Kim Ji-woon’s I Saw the Devil, and Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun. All, I quickly realized, had been released by the same studio, Magnet Releasing, whose label I recalled first noticing in front of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson. After some quick Internet searching, I quickly realized what I should have known initially, that Magnet was a subsidiary of indie distributor Magnolia Pictures. The practices of “indie” subsidiaries of studios has become commonplace. That majors like Universal and 20th Century Fox carry specialty labels Focus Features and Fox Searchlight which market to discerning audiences irrespective of whether or not the individual titles released are independently financed or studio-produced has become a defining practice for limited release titles and has, perhaps more than any other factor, obscured the meaning of the term “independent film” (Sony Pictures Classics, which only distributes existing films, is perhaps the only subsidiary arm of a major studio whose releases are actually independent of the system itself). This fact is simply one that has been accepted for quite some time in the narrative of small-scale American (or imported) filmmaking. Especially in the case of Fox Searchlight, whose opening banner distinguishes itself from the major in variation on name only, subsidiaries of the majors can hardly even be argued as “tricking” audiences into […]

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Nicolas Winding Refn just won Best Director at Cannes, but apparently he won’t be going to Disneyland to celebrate. Maybe not surprising for a director who once told me that “art is an act of violence.” That’s also when he began talking about Only God Forgives, a western-style drama that he’d like to shoot in Asia. Why Asia? Because they have the best toys, and Refn is an avid toy collector. I’m not making that up. Read the interview for confirmation. Fortunately, Twitch has gotten a hold of a synopsis for the film, and it’s chock-full of all sorts of genre goodness:

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With a little less than a week to go until I land at Nice Airport and get the hugely unglamorous Hack Bus into Cannes along with my boys from ObsessedWithFilm.com to begin FSR’s official Cannes film festival 2011 coverage, now is surely a prudent time to offer my thoughts on the biggest and brightest films showing on the Croisette this year. You already know what films are showing, so I won’t exhaustively trawl back through the list, but I wanted to take the opportunity to announce what I am particularly excited about. This also gives me the opportunity post-festival to look back at happier, simpler times when my optimism at seeing four films a day wasn’t yet destroyed by watching three incredibly boring flicks in a row, followed by a blockbuster during which I fell asleep (as happened in 2009). Anyway, lesson learned, and this year I’ll be packing as many natural amphetamines as possible. If you’re heading out there look for me, I’ll be the guy with the grinding jaw, the sallow eyes and the notepad full of doodles/plans to change the future of cinema. So anyway, here’s what I’m looking forward to most.

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There’s something perfect about the sass-filled sex pot of Mad Men joining a film directed by a man who said that “art [was] an act of violence.” There’s nothing poppy and light about Christina Hendricks’s show, but it’s downright froth compared to the madness that was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson. It’ll be great to see what they have in store for each other. Refn’s next project is Drive – a film starring Ryan Gosling as a stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver (because even stunt driving aint payin’ the bills these days). It also features the brilliant Albert Brooks, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and, now (according to Variety), Christina Hendricks. It won’t be her first feature film role, but it will be her second major after she’s seen in Life As We Know It – which sounds like a Sundance film but is actually a Katherine Heigl rom-com.

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Nicolas Winding Refn Valhalla Rising

To say Nicolas Winding Refn is interesting would be a major understatement. Refn oozes with ambiguity, blending poignancy and a sense of wackiness. I’d be lying if I said I could take in everything he was saying, but like his films, the more you think about what he’s trying to get across the more you understand. Refn is unlike any other director out there in terms of the films he makes and the way he describes them. Refn is currently out promoting his latest and best film yet, Valhalla Rising. It’s a change of pace from his previous cult hit Bronson, but that’s what he’s interested in. Refn never wants to repeat himself and he even said he’d go as far as making a romantic comedy to a musical to remain unpredictable. While Refn and I mostly talked about his genre bending Viking film, we did dive into the diversity of his films, the reoccurring themes of his work, and Refn even discussed why Pretty Woman (yes, the Julia Roberts prostitute romance romp) is the darkest film he’s ever seen. So yes, Refn had plenty of interesting things to say.

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Bryan Cranston

Nicolas Winding Refn is gearing up for his first big Hollywood experience. The auteur is currently working on Drive with Ryan Gosling, but now he’s added another actor to the mix: Bryan Cranston. When I talked to Refn recently about his excellent new film Valhalla Rising the conversation led off with him talking about casting sessions, and that’s where Refn said Cranston had joined the cast of his upcoming “love story” (as he described it).

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published: 12.19.2014
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published: 12.18.2014
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published: 12.17.2014
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